Holy Spirit High School senior Ethan Gambale's mother won't have to travel far to see her son's football games anymore.

The 6-foot-1 linebacker verbally committed to Monmouth University in West Long Branch last week.

His mother, Laura McCullough, lives in Little Silver, Monmouth County, which Gambale says is approximately 15 minutes from the campus.

"I like staying close to home so my family can come to every single home game now," Gambale said by phone Friday night. "I love New Jersey. It's in my blood. I was born and raised here. I think there's something special about it, and I can't wait to go out and represent my state."

McCullough went to as many of her son's high school football games as she could. So did his father, Louis Gambale. Ethan resides with his father in the Laureldale section of Mays Landing.

Last season, the 18-year-old was a Press first-team All-Star and a member of Holy Spirit's state Non-Public II championship team. He led the Spartans in tackles with 145. He also recorded four sacks and one fumble recovery, and broke up nine passes.

Gambale also helped the Spartans win the state Non-Public III title the previous season. Holy Spirit's enrollment group changed before the current school year.

Monmouth competes in the NCAA's Football Championship Series (formerly known as Division I-A). The Hawks went 5-6 overall and 4-4 in the Northeast Conference in 2011, finishing tied for fourth with Wagner. The Hawks last won the conference in 2007 and have five conference titles overall. Kevin Callahan has been the Hawks' coach from the program's inception in 1992. His record is 109-86.

"I'm looking forward to competing at a higher level with top-notch athletes," Gambale said. "It's going to be a whole different world than high school football. It's going to be more serious and I'm looking forward to that responsibility."

"Last year (Monmouth) was a really young team," he added. "They played a lot of freshmen. And from the guys I know who committed, there is a lot of talent coming in. Put us together and I think we'll make a big run at the conference title and move on to the FCS playoffs."

One of those recruits is his Holy Spirit teammate and best friend Zach Fabel, a Press second-team All-Star at tight end. Fabel committed to Monmouth in the fall.

"What's better than playing with your best friend from high school?" Gambale said.

Gambale said he also considered Sacred Heart University in Connecticut, the University at Albany, Towson University and the University of New Hampshire. Monmouth offered him a partial athletic scholarship. Gambale said that the scholarship could become a full one if he gets any playing time in his freshman season. He hopes to study business and communications.

"I think he'll have a tremendous impact," said Charles Roman, who coached Gambale at Holy Spirit and has since taken a new position at St. Augustine Prep,on Friday night. "He was a kid that was definitely under-recruited and he's a guy that will make an immediate impact. (I think) he'll certainly be a special-teams guy and get into some packages his freshman year."

Contact Kelly Ashe:

609-272-7210